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‘Troubled families are not lost causes,’ says BASW in response to Gove speech

Directors for Children’s Services call for ‘sector-led intervention’

The British Association of Social Workers, in response to Michael Gove's speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research, has called for 'careful assessment of the long-term needs of children, backed by better resources to do this vital work'.

Bridget Robb, acting Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said:

"What [Mr Gove's] analysis overlooks .... is that protecting children also involves learning from evidence from around the world telling us that simply cutting them off from their birth families is not always in their best interests.
"The minister's speech also offers no recognition of how part of the state's 'failure in its duty to keep our children safe' lies in a refusal to understand that it requires sustained investment in better services if we are to better protect children, whether this is done through intensive work with parents in the family or by taking more children into care. The latter option is not cheap, and to pretend that social workers can take on ever greater caseloads with ever diminishing resources is a miscalculation that Mr Gove surely must recognise.

"We must have effective mainstream services in place to support children and families, so that social workers, teachers, health and the police can properly work together.

"We need to be careful to resist taking a punitive approach to struggling families – an approach that may play well with the media but may fail vulnerable children who need protection. 

"Many "troubled" families are not the lost causes some would suggest. Instead, they are crying out for preventative services that are simply not there and that Mr Gove has made no promise to make available. The state has failed many of our children, but so too it has failed many of their parents, through the inequalities that pervade our society. Letting them get into difficulty then punishing them for it, when there are alternatives that could be pursued, is counter-productive.

"A balance must be struck between those children who are at risk and need to be protected through removal from their families, and those where work can be done to turn challenging situations around, so that children can benefit from being brought up safely within their own families." 

Debbie Jones, the President of the Association of Directors for Children's Services, said:

"Because children's services departments do not operate in isolation, any intervention to improve standards must address wider systemic problems, rather than focus solely on operational management of social workers. This means involving politicians, chief executives and partner agencies in the effort to improve. Intervention must also lead to sustainable improvement, rather than a temporary boost to capacity. We believe that the government intervention model does not always successfully address these issues and that sector-led forms of intervention are likely to have a number of advantages over those led by central government. Such a system would require all children's services leaders to take on responsibility for helping those who are struggling, and we welcome this responsibility. Sector led intervention is particularly helpful in generating meaningful capacity for sustained improvement as it allows a number of colleagues to contribute their expertise to tackling the very complex problems that can occur in failing authorities. It also means that the sector retains the experience and expertise in turning authorities around."